A searing look at the ‘working poor’

A searing look at the ‘working poor’

Vanessa Solivan, of New Jersey, has three kids and a job she enjoys as a home health care aide. She also is sometimes forced to sleep in the back of her station wagon because the money she earns, along with the paltry government assistance she receives, isn’t enough to keep a roof over her family’s head.

Number of the Day

8.4 - Percentage of Louisianans without health insurance in 2017, down from 10.3 percent the previous year. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey)

Vanessa Solivan, of New Jersey, has three kids and a job she enjoys as a home health care aide. She also is sometimes forced to sleep in the back of her station wagon because the money she earns, along with the paltry government assistance she receives, isn’t enough to keep a roof over her family’s head. As the U.S. economy continues improving and the official unemployment rate falls to near-record lows, a major question looms about the quality of these new jobs, which often come with low wages and few if any benefits. Matthew Desmond, reporting in the New York Times magazine, reports on the fate of the working poor.

These days, we’re told that the American economy is strong. Unemployment is down, the Dow Jones industrial average is north of 25,000 and millions of jobs are going unfilled. But for people like Vanessa, the question is not, Can I land a job? (The answer is almost certainly, Yes, you can.) Instead the question is, What kinds of jobs are available to people without much education? By and large, the answer is: jobs that do not pay enough to live on. In recent decades, the nation’s tremendous economic growth has not led to broad social uplift. Economists call it the “productivity-pay gap” — the fact that over the last 40 years, the economy has expanded and corporate profits have risen, but real wages have remained flat for workers without a college education. Since 1973, American productivity has increased by 77 percent, while hourly pay has grown by only 12 percent. If the federal minimum wage tracked productivity, it would be more than $20 an hour, not today’s poverty wage of $7.25.

 

Maternal mortality must be addressed
The United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world – and the rate in America is rising while in other countries it is on the decline. American women are dying at a high rate from pregnancy related complications. Hospitals have been unprepared for these emergencies and funding has been limited for the health of the mother. A new report by the Louisiana Department of Health looks at the issue and makes recommendations for how Louisiana can improve. LDH’s press release has more:

The report found that black women were four times more likely than white women to experience pregnancy-related death, consistent with national trends. The Louisiana Department of Health is responding to these findings in three important ways. First, the Louisiana Perinatal Quality Collaborative, consisting of 32 birth facilities in the state committed to change, launched its Reducing Maternal Morbidity Initiative on August 29. The Initiative will implement best practices to address hemorrhage and hypertension, two leading causes of maternal death identified in the report, while also focusing on reducing racial disparities in life-threatening complications related to these factors. Second, the Louisiana Department of Health will implement Act 497 of the 2018 Legislative Session, creating the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies Advisory Council, made up of experts and stakeholders who are committed to addressing racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes. The Council will support the Perinatal Quality Collaborative by incorporating a community-engaged approach to preventing maternal mortality and morbidity and will promote safe and equitable care for families in the state.

 

Medicaid and mental health
The expansion of Medicaid to cover low-income, working-age adults was supposed to increase access to mental health in Louisiana, which ranks 45th nationally in access to mental health services. But that hasn’t always been the case, as many service providers won’t accept Medicaid patients and complain of low reimbursement rates. Katherine Sayre of Nola.com|Times Picayune reports:

Even families with private insurance have a hard time, with some mental health providers requiring out-of-pocket payments. Wait times for an appointment can be months long. As a psychiatrist and deputy coroner in Jefferson Parish, Dr. Candace Cutrone oversees “the most acute end of the spectrum” of mental health cases – involuntary commitments. The state’s fragmented system, she said, “makes it even more difficult to follow someone who is seriously mentally ill. … There isn’t anyone who is in charge or aware of all the pieces and parts, because people travel along these different providers.”

 

The rising cost of college in America
College is one of the best ways to lift people out of poverty and provide access to high-quality jobs. But the rising cost of a four-year degree has put this dream out of reach for many Americans. Our peers across the world have found ways to expand access while keeping the cost low. Amanda Ripley of the Atlantic has more on what are the driving factors in the high cost of college in America:

Today, the U.S. spends more on college than almost any other country, according to the 2018 Education at a Glance report, released this week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). All told, including the contributions of individual families and the government (in the form of student loans, grants, and other assistance), Americans spend about $30,000 per student a year—nearly twice as much as the average developed country. “The U.S. is in a class of its own,” says Andreas Schleicher, the director for education and skills at the OECD, and he does not mean this as a compliment. “Spending per student is exorbitant, and it has virtually no relationship to the value that students could possibly get in exchange.” Only one country spends more per student, and that country is Luxembourg—where tuition is nevertheless free for students, thanks to government outlays. In fact, a third of developed countries offer college free of charge to their citizens. (And another third keep tuition very cheap—less than $2,400 a year.) Finland makes college free even to foreign students from other European Union countries. The farther away you get from the United States, the more baffling it looks.

 

Number of the day
8.4 – Percentage of Louisianans without health insurance in 2017, down from 10.3 percent the previous year. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey)